Spring, 2021, turned out to be cold in Europe, and in this regard, people started to call to memory global warming, or rather, about what happened to it and where it goes. But warming is not the essence of the climate problem. It’s much deeper. To understand it, we collected, thanks to the Green Portal the most common myths about the problem of climate change and found scientifically-based answers to them.
We can say that there are 5 basic provisions of the problem of climate change, which were formulated by Russian specialists in the framework of the Climate and Energy and Arctic programs. They claim that:
· The main sign of climate change is not temperature, but an increase in CO2 content in the atmosphere. There has not been such growth for hundreds of thousands of years.
· The greenhouse effect is intensified precisely because of human activities.
· The climate has always changed, but in recent decades a new and now dominant factor has come into play – the anthropogenic intensification of the greenhouse effect.
· The threat in the coming decades doesn’t come from the warming itself, but from more frequent and increasingly dangerous weather events (droughts, hurricanes, floods, etc.).
· The main effects of climate change are not evident today. Concerned about the future, what will happen in 20, 30, and more years.
The Paris Climate Agreement signed by most of the world’s states suggests that the problem exists. At the same time, there are enough of those who believe that it is far-fetched. But as numerous studies show, this is far from the case.
Myth # 1: The warming started before factories and cars appeared
Climate skeptics say that climate change has been observed many times in the past, so why are recent decades so worrisome?
Indeed, the results of measurements over the past 250 years show that the current rise in the average temperature of the planet is not unique in the history of mankind. There was also a medieval maximum and before it the ice ages. In the era of the dinosaurs, it was generally warmer by about 7° C than it is now.
The emergence of a new climatic factor – an unprecedented rise in the concentration of CO2 and methane – is alarming. The burning of fossil fuels and deforestation were the primary causes of the climate change problem, and the increase in temperature is one of its consequences. We’ll not reduce emissions overnight, which means that the temperature will continue to rise and the climate will change. Therefore, it is not the current situation that worries me, but the future.
The climatic function of forests is:
- they’re the main supplier of oxygen (1 square kilometer of tropical forests produces about 11 tons of oxygen per day);
- weaken the influence of various climatic phenomena;
- serve to maintain climatic equilibrium: they lower air temperature, increase humidity, reduce wind speed, etc.
Myth # 2: Human beings cannot “move” such a colossus as “the Earth’s climate system”
You cannot significantly “move” it, but you can strongly swing it. As a visual analogy, you can imagine a large kitchen cabinet with utensils. Like any object, it has an internal vibration frequency and sways a little. The Earth’s climatic system is also characterized by a mass of periodic processes: monsoons, El Niño, fluctuations in currents in the Arctic Ocean, etc.
The El Niño Current (Spanish El Niño means “baby, boy”), or the Southern Oscillation (ENSO), is a fluctuation in the temperature of the surface water layer in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which has a noticeable effect on the climate.
It is, of course, superimposed on natural influences caused by the activity of the Sun, and in the long term and the Earth’s orbit, as well as the tilt of its axis. But these are very “slow” influences. Not even tremors (except for volcanoes), but soft, but very strong pressure. It moves the “cabinet”, but so slowly and those strong vibrations are not felt.
But then humanity “approached” and pushed the cabinet. It moved a couple of centimeters but swayed 10 or more. A lot of dishes got in and broke – here they are “unprecedented” dangerous phenomena: floods and droughts, heat and frost, storms and downpours. Note that the oscillation frequency remains the same, for the cabinet it’s determined by its geometric dimensions, and for the Earth’s climate – by physical processes. Since there are many oscillatory processes in the climate system, their intensification, and superposition on each other lead to a “twitchy” or “nervous” climate, which we often hear about now.
A person can actually change only the “weak links” of the climate system: the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to fuel combustion, cloud albedo due to more dust, etc. (Albedo is the fraction of solar radiation reflected by clouds.)
It increased the greenhouse effect by only 2-3%, and even less in terms of radiative heating of the atmosphere – less than 3 W / m2, which is less than 1% of solar radiation. But a lot of the “dishes” were broken.
Myth # 3: Fluctuations in climatic temperatures on planet Earth are most definitely associated with fluctuations in solar activity
Scientists from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences have compared the quantitative contribution of all factors affecting the climate, both natural and anthropogenic. The conclusion is unambiguous: the sun influences, but now numerically “loses” to a person several times.
According to the impact on the current climate change, the ratio of contributions to net warming is 1:10. Note that on a scale of hundreds and thousands of years, everything is different. Now the anthropogenic increase in the greenhouse effect is about 10 times stronger than the factor of solar radiation.
“Net” warming, because all influences were taken into account – both upward and downward in temperature. Further, all factors were incorporated into the general circulation model of the atmosphere and ocean, which were tested in detail. The conclusion of scientists: it was not without “anthropogenic”.
“It is extremely unlikely (<5%) that the climate changes observed over the past 50 years have occurred without external influences. But with a high degree of probability (> 90%), it can be argued that the observed increase in the concentration of anthropogenic greenhouse gases is responsible for most of the global warming since the middle of the 20th century”.
The sun has been the most important “host of the weather” in past centuries. It will be so in the future, in 50-100 years, when a person will greatly reduce his impact on the climate. By the way, if the Sun were the “main”, then the average temperature across the planet would have increased significantly. But this is not: frost in South America, cold in the Pacific Ocean, and in Siberia.
Myth # 4: The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (and especially carbon dioxide) has practically no effect on the planet’s climate
“Changes in CO2 content in the atmosphere are a consequence of temperature changes, not its cause,” – this is the statement that can often be heard from the climate skeptics.
Quite right, this was the case in the past: first, the temperature changed, and after it the vegetation developed more actively, emitting CO2, increasing its circulation in nature and the greenhouse effect. Based on the analysis of ice columns in the Arctic up to 800,000 years old, scientists have plotted the temperature and concentration of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. They turned out to be very similar, and the gases always “lagged” a little. And all these years, warm periods were replaced by cold ones.
On this time scale, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has determined and will continue to be determined by the biosphere. This is an ongoing but very slow process. But in the last decades of the 20th century, a sharp increase in CO2 is superimposed on it, caused by completely different reasons – by humanity and its activities. We have dealt a sharp chemical blow to the atmosphere. In this case, CO2 first changes, and then the temperature. The situation can only be stabilized by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, to which humanity will inevitably come. After this move everything will go on as before: the temperature will “push” CO2 and increase the greenhouse effect.
Myth 5: Human beings cannot influence the carbon cycle in nature in any way
In fact, at first glance, it seems surprising that humanity would have influenced such a gigantic process.
And yet, according to the global CO2 database, in the early industrial era (since 1750), the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased by a third, from 280 to 385 ppm (parts per million by volume). Previously, only its fluctuations were observed, which depended on the time of day, the season of the year (temperature), and the amount of vegetation biomass at the observation site. Now all the studies are talking about a slow but constant increase in the average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, independent of temperature. Scientists associate this process mainly with human activity.
It’s obvious that humanity cannot change the entire carbon cycle – these are trillions of tons! But it managed to influence the thin and weak link – the atmosphere.
The proof is the results of isotope analysis. There are 7 carbon isotopes in nature, of which three play a significant role. Two of them, C12 and C13, are stable. Their study began half a century ago. Then the quantitative content of isotopes in atmospheric CO2 was estimated. It turned out that the C12 isotope occupies about 98.893% and C13 – 1.107%, and the ratio of C12 and C13 in natural objects varies from 88 to 94.
But recently, researchers have found that CO2 is entering the atmosphere with a significantly lower content of the C13 isotope from the generally accepted standard. They began to look for the reason for its appearance: they carried out high-precision measurements at all latitudes, at the ocean and high-mountain stations. Found that the ratio of isotopes C12 / C13 in atmospheric CO2 over the past 30 years has changed significantly. And this growth curve correlates well with the curve of anthropogenic emissions from fuel combustion, and not with natural processes.
Myth 6: The number of extreme events has not increased, or nature is not weird, it’s just so fickle
We are not talking about a “new climate”, but about change, precisely it, the “imbalance” of the existing one – stronger fluctuations of the climate system as a whole. Yes, new extreme events do not appear. First of all, the number of “old”, familiar phenomena is increasing: where there were strong winds, showers, and snowfalls, there are more of them.
An increase in the number of dangerous events is observed mainly in summer, while an increase in temperature is recorded mainly in winter and spring. There is no contradiction here: this is because it is in the summer that active convection develops – vertical air currents, the intensification of which leads to more frequent and strong dangerous phenomena. Climate change, first of all, enhances the existing and does not create fundamentally new phenomena for your area.
Myth # 7: The greenhouse effect is a hyped hypothesis that has made a lot of money and fame
As a rule, any scientific knowledge generates a desire to make money on it. The climate problem has a clear scientific basis, and its existence and the need for a solution do not depend on anyone’s commercial interests. The “green” position of the Europeans is caused, firstly, by a higher ecological culture and a general understanding of the problem. Secondly, the damage from climate change that the population experiences every year: heat waves, severe floods, and storms, the threat of a decline in tourism in Southern Europe, etc. Of course, this or that solution to any problem is always more economically beneficial for individual countries and companies.
In the case of greenhouse gases, we are dealing with energy and energy-efficient equipment in general. Here we can talk about commercial benefits for manufacturers of more energy-efficient equipment, new, less energy-intensive technologies, energy-saving windows and insulation materials, etc. The climate problem automatically encourages innovative technologies and pioneers of their application. The best way to “fight” is to become a pioneer too.
“There are several points here,” comments Maria Falaleeva, Deputy Chairperson of the Central Council of the IOO Eco project. “Firstly, it is natural for a business to make money by solving any problems. The more pressing the problem, the more you can earn. It never occurs to anyone now to accuse the first penicillin manufacturers of bringing them to market, earning money on solving many medical problems. Therefore, in this case, it is wiser to look for opportunities in new conditions, and not to blame those who do it earlier and better.”
According to her, all the main “myths about global warming”, more precisely – about global climate change, including the fact that the human impact is “greatly exaggerated”, have long been commented on and explained in scientific and popular publications. It is easy for a person who is interested in a problem to find any information on this issue.
“I can only say that the latest study by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that the probability of human impact on climate change is over 90%, that is, almost unambiguously. It is important to know that the IPCC is not a separate scientific organization, as it might seem, but thousands of international experts who are recommended by individual countries based on a balance of interests, both scientific and political,” she said.